Printin' Dirty

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The Dirty Printmakers of America are coming to your town! A printing party and fashion show is in the works this Friday at VINI Gallery.

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“We’ll have six different printmakers from across the way,” says Joseph Velasquez, veteran printmaker and one of the event’s organizers. “I’ve got a couple of people from Chicago, Minneapolis, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, and New York and we’re all converging there at the VINI gallery.”
Velasquez with one of his prints.
  • Velasquez with one of his prints.

They’ll be printing up the woodblocks, carved with Derby-themed designs, on t-shirts and other garments, and also on paper. The Roller Derby girls will model the printed garments at a fashion show and art exhibit, where posters and garments will be on sale, with 50% of the proceeds benefiting the Memphis Roller Derby.

The Dirty Printmakers of America is a national collective of artists who are (according to their website) “dedicated to the perpetuation, growth and understanding of printmaking and exhibiting contemporary American prints.”

“We started off 8 years ago with a crew of four of us,” says Velasquez, “and now we’re over 150 strong coast to coast.”

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Velasquez got interested in printmaking as a youth in Austin, Texas — a town known for its prominent music scene. “I’ve been printing for about ten years,” he says. “I got started apprenticing, doing band posters and flyers for other exhibitions. The thing that drew me in the most was this idea of accessibility. You know, I could paint a picture and that canvas could go on someone’s wall where no one could see it. But I could carve on a woodblock and I could make thirty of them.”
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More than the simple proliferation of his work, Velasquez was drawn to the variety of outlets for his prints. “Ten of those thirty I could give to friends, and the other ten I could enter into museum and gallery culture, and the final ten I could go around town and wheat paste them up. That argues for free art, but what I really dug about it is that I could also print those same things on a t-shirt. So a kid wearing the t-shirt that I printed could pass by the wheat paste on the wall on the way to the gallery, all seeing the same image that came from the same source. That’s what struck me about printmaking. This shit can ride the elevator of social attainment. It’s art that ain’t just for rich people, it’s for all people.”

You can find Velasquez’s work online, but he says he prefers to do on-site printing. While a graduate student at University of Wisconsin in Madison, Velasquez and a friend began Drive By Press, a way of bringing printmaking to those without the resources.

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“We got an 800 lb press and put it in the back of our vehicle and we started driving around the country going to community centers and other institutions that didn’t have printmaking programs or art programs. We started live printing and printing outdoors. We did it as a thesis project for thirteen schools and then 260 schools later it turned into something else. We’ve just been going and giving lectures about the history of printmaking and showing kids what other artists are doing across the country.”
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And the more they traveled, the more word spread about their printmaking ways. “Some indie bands heard about what we were doing,” he says. “We went on tour with Spoon and took our 800 lb press with us and got to ride in the bus with them. The roadies would load our stuff in with them. For the last three years, we were touring and sleeping on undergrads’ busted-ass futons. When we went on tour with them we felt like we’d been signed ourselves.”

Traveling around in a bus, carving woodblocks with Spoon and printing fresh t-shirts and posters at each concert, Velasquez has definitely lived one variation of the indie undergrad’s dream. “All the kids would see the nature of the idea and were really hip to the idea and what we were doing.”

Get hip to the idea yourself this Friday at VINI gallery, 423 North Watkins, “in the shadow of the Sears Crosstown building.”

For more information, visit fiveinone.org.

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